Occasionally, family members of a recently-deceased person in Houston, Texas will attempt to claim that a will is invalid, normally because it leaves them out of it. This process is called a "Will contest."
Sometimes, testators leave out of their wills people who might normally expect to inherit a large portion of the testator's estate (spouses, for instance). This might lead them to assume, correctly or not, that the will was a mistake.
If there is a massive amount of money or property at stake, a family member who was left out of the will might find it to be worth the time or money to contest it.
Bringing legal action against anyone, let alone a family member, is not a decision that you should rush into. Contesting a will, especially if another family member stands to lose out if you are successful in the contest, can permanently alter or even destroy family relationships. Obviously, this is something to consider.
When Can a Will be Contested in Houston, Texas?
There are several reasons that a Houston, Texas court might hold a will to be invalid.
For example, if the will was obtained through duress (threat of some kind of harm), then it is invalid. Duress, however, is difficult to prove. If a named beneficiary was in some position of power or trust with the decedent, and is not someone who one would ordinarily expect to get a large gift in a will, that might raise considerable initial suspicion of something improper happening. Of course, those facts alone are not nearly enough to prove duress.
A will can also be rejected because the decedent was not mentally competent to draft it at the it was made. A court will look at the person's mental capacity at the time the will was made, so even if the testator is now perfectly sane, if he or she was incapacitated for whatever reason (by way of intoxication, for example) at the time the will was made, the will can still be invalidated.
If the contest is successful, a court in Houston, Texas might find the will or part of it invalid. Of course, that leaves the question of how to distribute the property in the absence of a valid will. All states have laws that address this situation, normally passing the property to the decedent's closest living kin. All states have laws governing the order in which property is passed on in this manner. Usually, it goes to the spouse first. If there is no living spouse, it goes to the children. If there are no children, it goes to the decedent's parents, and so on. Most laws on this subject are written in such a way that almost everyone will have at least one relative entitled to inherit, even if that person is very distantly related to the decedent. In the very rare case where no living relatives exist, or none can be found, the decedent's assets usually go to the state.
Can a Houston, Texas Contested Will Attorney Help?
Contesting a will can be a complicated, emotional, expensive, and time-consuming process. There is really no way around this. However, a brilliant Houston, Texas wills and estates attorney can minimize these problems, and make the process as painless as possible.